It is known from clinical studies that some patients attempt to cope with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by using recreational drugs. This review presents a case report of a 19-year-old male patient with a spectrum of severe PTSD symptoms, such as intense flashbacks, panic attacks, and self-mutilation, who discovered that some of his major symptoms were dramatically reduced by smoking cannabis resin. The major part of this review is concerned with the clinical and preclinical neurobiological evidence in order to offer a potential explanation of these effects on symptom reduction in PTSD. This review shows that recent studies provided supporting evidence that PTSD patients may be able to cope with their symptoms by using cannabis products. Cannabis may dampen the strength or emotional impact of traumatic memories through synergistic mechanisms that might make it easier for people with PTSD to rest or sleep and to feel less anxious and less involved with flashback memories. The presence of endocannabinoid signalling systems within stress-sensitive nuclei of the hypothalamus, as well as upstream limbic structures (amygdala), point to the significance of this system for the regulation of neuroendocrine and behavioural responses to stress. Evidence is increasingly accumulating that cannabinoids might play a role in fear extinction and antidepressive effects. It is concluded that further studies are warranted in order to evaluate the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids in PTSD.
Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.